Efling Strike a Growing Possibility

Efling chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir.

Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson, director of SA, the Confederation of Icelandic Employers, has expressed his pessimism at reaching a new contract with Efling.

Regarding the last counter-offer made by Efling, Halldór refrained from commenting directly to RÚV, but stated this morning: “We will see what happens, but I am not optimistic.”

In Focus: Wage Negotiations

In light of the difficulties, intervention by the state mediator is expected in the coming days.

Halldór further stated to RÚV: “Eighty thousand contracts around the nation have been recently concluded […] SA is now done negotiating with all the major trade unions. As stated, we cannot deviate from the contractual goals and outlines that are in the collective agreements, because then SA would be betraying the trust of these people around the country.”

Regarding a strike, Halldór emphasized the potential damage it could have, saying that it would be costly for both employers, employees, and society as a whole. However, Halldór said that he was “not ruling anything out.”

On the other side of the bargaining table, Efling chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir has accused SA of showing no willingness to negotiate.

Characterizing the latest contract negotiations as a “battle,” Sólveig recently said in an interview on RÁS 2, that “Efling’s negotiating committee cannot allow itself to be treated this way. We’ve shown a willingness to negotiate so at this point no one can claim that we’ve somehow given up the fight […] We understand the responsibility we bear. Our loyalty is to our union members.”

Read more about wage negotiations here.

SGS Signs New Contract with SA, Causing Controversy

sgs trade union iceland

A new short-term contract has been reached between SGS, one of Iceland’s larger trade unions and SA, the Federation of Icelandic Employers. The agreement was reached on Saturday, December 3, between 17 of SGS’s member organisations and SA. Notably, Efling, SGS’s largest member organisation, was not a signatory to the agreement.

Rising interest rates have complicated wage negotiations between many of Iceland’s trade unions and SA, with short-term contracts seen as a compromise to cope with the immediate impact of inflation and interest rates, without locking unions and employers into longer-term contracts that may not be suited to economic conditions in the traditional three-year period.

The short-term contract will be valid from November 2022 to the end of January 2024. It includes a flat minimum raise, as well as more holidays and adjustments for inflation.

Read more: VR Leaves Negotiating Table

However, the recent SGS contract has come under heavy criticism.

Kristján Þórður Snæbjarnarson, acting chairperson of the Confederation of Iceland Labour after Drífa Snædal’s resignation earlier this year, stated that the agreement was not suitable for craftsmen. He expressed his wish that the trade unions would stand together during the negotiating process, but that the inconclusive Confederation of Labour Congress earlier this year caused many fault lines to form within the Icelandic labour movement.

“As I said after the congress,” stated Kristján to RÚV, “I believed that we could take positive steps forward to strengthen the union. Just like our congressional elections are supposed to do. But it didn’t work, so this is what it’s come to. What we need to do is work on our internal issues and find a way forward.” 

Read more: Rising Interest Rates Complicate Upcoming Wage Negotiations

In light of difficult labour market conditions, the current round of wage negotiations was seen by many in the labour movement as a time for solidarity in applying pressure against SA, the employer’s union. The recent agreement between SGS and SA is seen by some as a betrayal of labour solidarity at a time when workers hold more power over their employers than usual.

Sólveig Anna, chairperson of the Efling union, has also been critical of the contract. She stated to RÚV: “We, of course, do not agree to take part in some deception where what people have already won is being simply repackaged and sold back to them.”

Efling is notable as having gone into their negotiations with very ambitious demands.

Along with Sólveig Anna, Vilhjálmur Birgisson, chairperson of SGS, and Ragnar Þór Ingólfsson, chairperson of VR, together represent some of the largest labour organisations in Iceland. The SGS contract, however, has driven a divide between these figures.

In a post on social media, Vilhjálmur stated his side of the case, saying that he was “saddened to see people he considered friends stab him in the back.” He also accused other members of the labour movement of leaking details of the contract to complicate the agreement, and of treating the recent agreement “as if a crime had been committed.”